How medical marijuana and a big safe brought Miami burglary crew to the suburbs
What were Florida jewelry thieves up to last week when they got busted by federal authorities who say they cased several businesses in the Northwest suburbs?
The answer involves a Mount Prospect medical marijuana dispensary, a safe with $700,000 cash, plans for a complicated, high-tech heist, and an FBI informant who helped blow it all up.
That's the narrative laid out in federal court documents filed May 18 leading to the arrests of Matthew Petruccelli, 66, and Michael Clarence Ornelas, 54. Court records show the duo from suburban Miami was taken into custody last Saturday in Illinois on charges of conspiracy to transport stolen property in interstate commerce.
It all started back in January, when an informant approached the FBI in Palm Beach County with an extraordinary tale. The informant claimed he, Petruccelli and Ornelas were a sophisticated crew that had been operating in the Sunshine State since 2012, according to an FBI agent's affidavit.
The crew targeted jewelry stores in central and northern Florida, according to the affidavit, until Ornelas' day job -- as a locksmith and safe installer -- received a call that would turn their sights on Chicago's suburbs.
They'll never suspect him
That call, the informant told the FBI, came from the owner of several medical marijuana dispensaries looking for a safe large enough to hold $700,000 in $20 bills. "Ornelas thought this would be a good target because the business owner would never suspect him," the FBI agent wrote.
Over the next several weeks, the informant recorded himself, Petruccelli and Ornelas meticulously planning break-ins at Chicago-area marijuana dispensaries and jewelry stores, court documents state. Among their targets: New Age Care, a dispensary in Mount Prospect; the Greenhouse dispensary in Deerfield; CY Fredrics jewelry stores in Glenview and Highland Park; and AM Lee Jeweler in Northbrook.
In April, the trio traveled to Illinois on a reconnaissance mission to check out the dispensaries in Mount Prospect and Deerfield and the CY Fredrics in Glenview. After several days, the crew headed back to Florida to finalize their plans.
According to the affidavit, they agreed to hit the Glenview jewelry store. They would cut through the wall of an adjacent fitness club, disable the jewelry store's security system while jamming nearby cellular communications, then put Ornelas' professional expertise to use to crack the business' safe.
On May 17, court documents say, the trio left south Florida in a rented vehicle. Unbeknown to Petruccelli and Ornelas, the informant was carrying an FBI tracking device. The crew reached the Indiana-Illinois board last Friday and was arrested Saturday, records show.
Now Petruccelli and Ornelas are heading back to south Florida, not with a stash of stolen jewels, but sporting some shiny wrist accessories called handcuffs, courtesy of the U.S. government.
A couple of weeks back we told you about a baby coyote found abandoned along a busy suburban road, mistaken for a puppy dog by a good Samaritan, and turned over to Bartlett police.
Today, some good news, courtesy of the Forest Preserve District of DuPage County's Willowbrook Wildlife Center. According to the center, the pup arrived "dehydrated and vocal," but otherwise healthy. Now properly hydrated, she's eating on her own "with gusto" and playing with the toys and stuffed animals that for now are her only companions.
The center plans to transfer her soon to another wildlife rehab that has other coyote pups, where she can grow up alongside a foster family.
"Our goal is for her to grow into a healthy, wild coyote and be released into suitable habitat," the center said in an online update.
Juvenile's sentence upheld
In May 2010, Ronald Patterson was a mentally ill 16-year-old who was born with cocaine in his system, abandoned by his drug-addicted mother as an infant and made a ward of the state by the time he was 12.
He also was a convicted rapist, found guilty as an adult of brutally assaulting a mental health technician looking after him at Streamwood's John Costigan Center.
What's the appropriate punishment for someone like that? A state appeals court weighed in this week when it unanimously upheld the 36-year prison sentence a Cook County judge gave Patterson eight years ago this week.
In his appeal, Patterson, now 24 and living at the Pontiac Correctional Center, argued that the judge abused her discretion by handing down such a lengthy prison term to a teen who'd battled mental illness and childhood trauma. The court also ignored testimony from a social worker and a child welfare specialist who urged leniency, and a psychologist who noted improvement in Patterson's behavior, he argued.
In its 15-page ruling, the appellate court acknowledges that the judge "gave little weight to the opinions of the professionals who worked most closely with Ronald," but could not say that she ignored their testimony.
And since the 36-year term was a middle-of-the-road sentence -- Patterson could have been sentenced to 90 years behind bars -- there was no abuse of discretion, the appellate court found.
Jerry Leake has spent plenty of time in squad cars and police stations over the past five decades.
But not as a criminal, nor as a police officer. He's the senior chaplain for the Aurora Police Department.
The Aurora priest been doing it since 1975, except for a few years when he was stationed at an Elgin parish. Even then he was a chaplain, but for Elgin's department.
So we're sure a lot of officers, past and present, will be at a celebration Sunday marking the 50th anniversary of the Rev. Leake's ordination.
St. Joseph Catholic Church, 722 High St., Aurora, will mark the occasion with a Mass at 10:30 a.m., followed by an open house and lunch from 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. All are invited, though you're asked to RSVP if you'll be having lunch. Call (630) 844-3780.
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